Bloody Sox

Red Sox Rants — and other random opinions about sports

Archive for the month “August, 2008”

A-Rot

How bad must Alex Rodriguez play for me to actually start feeling sorry for him? As bad as last night. Baseball’s highest paid player ever stunk the place (Yankee Stadium) up, and the New York press is in full lather. From the level of acrimony steaming off the pages of New York’s tabloids, you would think that A-Rod had invaded a sovereign country under false pretenses, or driven the national debt to record levels, or let an American city be destroyed, or fiddled while the U.S. economy took a nose dive or something, like, really serious.

Last night’s game was important for the Red Sox. With the recent run of injuries to Lowell, Drew, and Beckett, and the continued inspiring play of the Tampa Bay Rays, the Sox need to build some momentum for the stretch run in September. Being swept three straight in NY didn’t seem out of the question… but now that can’t happen. Hopefully Paul Byrd will pitch competently tonight — and Sydney Ponson will be his usual self — and the Sox can garner another win going into tomorrow’s final Sox game at Yankee Stadium, when Jon Lester matches up against Mike Mussina.

But, Sox fans, let’s not wallow too much in all the A-Rod bashing. The guy could come back tonight with a monster game. And this season is a long way from over.

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Baseball vs. football

When I was growing up, I was an ardent football fan. No other sport even came close to rivaling my passion for that game. This is probably natural as my father was a football coach, and I played the game through high school (my 5’5″ frame and slow legs prevented me from continuing my football career at a higher level). So it was somewhat of a surprise to me that at some point in the 1990s I realized that I cared more about what occured on a baseball diamond than I did about the gridiron.

I bring this up because I’ve just become aware of a 1981 letter written by the great American philosopher John Rawls, which lists the reasons baseball is the greatest game. This letter, as might be expected, has prompted a few discussions about the merits of baseball versus football (with basketball and hockey as mostly after thoughts). And so I’ve been asking myself why I now like baseball more than football. Here are a few of my thoughts:

First of all, I guess I have to admit that it is in part a reflection of my affinity for my favorite teams. As a teenager I was mad for the Dallas Cowboys. Roger Staubach, Bob Lilly, Walt Garrison, Tony Dorsett, Cliff Harris, Jethro Pugh, Randy White… the whole gang. I just loved them. In the 1980s, once the Cowboys declined, and especially when Jerry Jones bought the team and fired Tom Landry, my interest waned. Even once the team started winning again, I could never muster the same passion for Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin. (Don’t mistake me, I’m still a Cowboys fan — going on 42 years now — but not with the same fervor.)

In the meantime I started paying more attention to baseball and learning more about all its facets. Back in the day, I didn’t even know what a hit and run is, let alone what is a good count to put the hit and run on. To truly appreciate baseball, you need to be aware of all these nuances, because otherwise it is just a pitcher’s and a batter’s game.

Baseball is a cleaner game. By that I mean that the action on the field is pretty clear to anyone watching. In this I agree with Rawls, who made a similar observation. In football, some of the most intense and critical action occurs in masses of bodies at the line of scrimage. It is difficult to really appreciate that. Watching football, in some ways is like reading an analog watch: There is all sorts of mechanisms at work, but all you see or really care about is the result — the time, or what happens to the ball. The mechanisms in baseball may be simpler, but they are all on display and it is easier to appreciate them.

I like that in baseball every player (except pitchers) has to play defense and offense. While the skill sets vary between some of the defensive positions, every player needs to be able to catch and throw and run and hit. It makes it easier to compare players across teams. So a second baseman from the Red Sox and a left fielder from the Rangers can both be competing for a batting title. In football, you can only compare receivers to other receivers, running backs to other running backs, etc… This gives me a rooting interest in every player on my favorite team, and I find that more engaging.

Though it has now become a cliche, the fact that baseball doesn’t have a time limit is also compelling. Games last as long as they need to, and there isn’t an artificial urgency created by the ticking clock.

In addition, during the season my favorite team plays five or six times a week, so there is always news to follow. Free-agency also makes the off season interesting. So I can remain engaged in my favorite team every day throughout the year.

Less tangibly but no less significant, baseball season is a harbinger of springtime — no small thing here in Vermont. It is the game of spring time and summer. Football is the harbinger of winter. It starts in the pleasant days of September and ends in the dark of February, and then we still have two months of winter to endure.

Finally, I think I have become less tolerant of the violence in football, due, perhaps, to my growing liberalism. I still enjoy watching a clean, hard tackle, but it seems that more and more football players try to put a smack down on their opponents… or maybe I’m just noticing that more. With so much violence in the world, perhaps we don’t need more in our entertainments.

Do I agree with everything Rawls has to say about baseball? No. He talks about the equilibrium of the game and the way that football fiddles with the rules to get things right. He clearly forgot about how baseball lowered the mound in the late 1960s to reduce the pitcher’s advantage. And he wrote his letter before MLB jiggered the baseballs to create home run balls. And that’s not even to mention the steroid era.

Seven thoughts about the Red Sox

  1. The whatshisname for Jason Bay trade was a good move. The team is playing better, and Jason Bay is a good ball player. Yes, Manny is knocking the cover off the ball for the Dodgers, but he would not have played this well if he’d remained on the Red Sox. Even if the Sox don’t make the playoffs, I won’t knock this deal.
  2. The Sox miss Mike Lowell more than they miss whathisname. Mike Lowell is a steady performer, and an anchor in that lineup. If he is out the rest of the season, or if nagging injuries keep him from performing at the plate the way he did in the first half of the season, (either because of his hip problem or his oblique doesn’t heal fast enough — or both), the Sox are going to struggle offensively and defensively.
  3. Given that Lowell is out for several weeks, Terry Francona should settle on a lineup with Youk at third, Lowrie at short and Casey at first. That alignment gives the Sox the strongest offense, and a pretty good defense. It is far better than Lowrie at third, Cora at short and Youk at first.
  4. I have this feeling that if the Red Sox bull pen hadn’t imploded a few times, Jon Lester might be in the running for the Cy Young award.
  5. There’s a lot of chatter that Jason Varitek has reached the end of the road with the Sox, that his offense has completely abandoned him. Perhaps. But don’t forget that Varitek battled two pretty serious illnesses earlier this year. Given that and the daily grind of catching this irratic pitching staff, it may just be fatigue. That and the weight of going through a divorce. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jason has a resurgence at the plate next season, no matter who he ends up playing for.
  6. Theo Epstein is probably going to want to add some offense to the Sox in the off season. Problem is that it is hard to see where he’ll fit a new bat or two into the lineup. If he signs Mark Teixeira, where will Youk play? Third? Then where does Lowell go? They aren’t going to replace Pedroia at second. They aren’t going to replace Bay or Drew in the outfield. Perhaps they’ll trade Ellsbury for pitching and sign a center fielder who can hit… and who would that be? You’re not going to find a difference making bat among the free agent catchers. No, I don’t see that the Red Sox will be much different come next spring.
  7. Is it just me or does it seem like any time someone in the bleachers sneezes, J.D. Drew gets hurt?

How’s this for a weird play?

Jason Bay has been in the thick of things for the Sox since he came over in the trade for whathisname, but this is one of the weirder plays you’ll see.

Charlie Pierce is way off base…

The day after the trade that shipped what’s his name to the Dodgers and brought Jason Bay to the Red Sox, Charlie Pierce had a few piercing comments about Red Sox fans, Peter Gammons, Theo Epstein and Red Sox veterans. I’m a fan of Mr. Pierce. I enjoy his comments on “Only a Game” and “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.” However, I find his point of view regarding Sir Manny curious.

Actually, I disagree entirely.

His implication is that the Red Sox couldn’t have won two World Series without Manny Ramirez. That is possibly true. But just as arguable is that they couldn’t have won two World Series without David Ortiz. Or Pedro Martinez. Or Josh Beckett. Or Curt Schilling. In fact, they probably couldn’t have won two World Series without Derek Lowe or even David Roberts. You see, Charlie, that’s the nature of TEAM sports.

I’m not sure if Charlie Pierce actually understands the team concept — and I know Manny does not get it. Pierce also takes exception to the notion that some Sox veterans marched into Theo’s office and said that Manny has to go. Here’s Pierce’s snotty take on that:

It is the delegation of “veterans” who came to Epstein declaring, in essence, “We cannot work in this ambience!” (then perhaps huffing off to their trailers for a massage and some chamomile tea) that’s the most bizarre element of the whole affair.

I suppose Charlie would have a higher opinion of these Veterans if instead they were to have said, “Yes, Manny is a child. He has quit on us in the past. He physically abuses people. He is unhappy and unmotivated. But we just can’t win without him. Please, please, please don’t make us play without him.”

Yes, Pierce writes a lot about sports (always entertainingly), but has he ever actually participated in a team sport? I don’t know, but given his somewhat doughy physique, I kinda doubt it. And that would explain this crazy comment as well:

I still wouldn’t be Jason Bay for all the money Manny Ramirez ever made.

Apparently he is unable to grasp the idea that a professional athlete might prefer to play for a team with annual aspirations for winning a championship than for one that continually trades away all its best players. This may be why Mr. Pierce empathizes more with Manny Ramirez than with Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek and Kevin Youkilis. Then again, I sometimes think Charlie just likes being contrary.

Reflections on the Trading Deadline

Now that the drama of the Manny Ramirez deal is settling down a little, I’d like to share a few thoughts on the Sox performance at the trading deadline. I was surprised that Theo and company didn’t get some help for the bullpen, this team’s weakest aspect. The 2008 Sox need lean heavily on the pen, and will continue to do so with Dice-K looking like he’ll never get past the sixth inning in any of his starts. I won’t go into all the pen’s many woes, but I’ll just say that other than Papelbon, I wouldn’t trust any of them to protect a marginal lead late in the game (think Okie Friday night!).

So I wonder if the lack of attention at getting a sturdy reliever in any deal reflects a confidence that the team can solve the problem from within, or that they were so focused on the Manny deal they couldn’t pull the trigger on any others. If the latter, that’s a major failure and one more way that Manny has hurt this team.

I like Theo’s approach to developing young talent and protecting them, but I think he is over protective at times. A few years ago he could have gotten some top talent in return for Craig Hanson — now Hanson is gone as a pawn in the Manny/Bay deal. Well, it is all interesting and only time will tell what moves work and what do not.

The Bay Era Begins

It is nice to see the Red Sox reel off three straight wins, even if against the deteriorated Oakland A’s. Jason Bay was everything anyone could hope for, playing good defense, whacking the ball around and being a decent human being.

The only thing that scared me was when I tuned into the radio broadcast on Friday and I was met with the voices of Dave O’Brien and Dale Arnold… I had this horrified moment when I feared that the Sox had to include long-time broadcaster Joe Castiglione in the deal to move Manny to L.A.  But then Dave O’Brien explained that Joe was away for the weekend to attend a family wedding. Phew!

Bye Bye Manny!

Finally. The long darkness is over. Manny Ramirez is no longer a member of the Boston Red Sox. Good riddance.

I agree with those who think the Red Sox will not be as potent offensively with Jason Bay in left field. However, they will be a better TEAM. That’s a word Manny Ramirez never really learned.

What surprised me about this deal is just how much the Red Sox had to give up to get rid of the guy! Wasn’t it enough that they were willing to pay the remainder of Manny’s salary for the year? Did they really have to kick in BOTH Craig Hanson and Brandon Moss. I’m not too sorry to see Hanson go, as I don’t think he ever could have flourished in Boston. I suspect he’ll turn into a respectable closer for the Pirates in the National League. But I liked Brandon Moss. I have this sneaking suspicion that Moss will be more productive for the Pirates in the next two months than Bay will be for the Sox.

Nevertheless, I like what I’ve read about Bay. He seems like a good addition to the club, even if his stick doesn’t instill fear into opposing pitchers. I’m looking forward to watching this new team gel and compete for a playoff spot.

The one good thing about this episode is that it has given me the motivation to finally get around to setting up my Red Sox blog. Thanks, Manny! Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

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